Steven Pruden has some impressive tech experience under his belt. He’s been a lead architect at Intel; worked as a Web developer, integration project manager, and director of IT at other large corporations; and served in VP roles heading up operations from CRM to mobility and crowdsourcing at Appirio, an Indianapolis-based cloud services provider that was acquired by the Indian IT consulting giant Wipro last year. Today, he’s Appirio’s SVP of human resources.
I recently spoke with Pruden and asked him how somebody with that background ends up as the HR guy. He laughed and said, “I ask myself the same thing every day.” He explained it this way:
You’re right, it is definitely not a well-worn path that I’ve taken to the HR world. My background has really been in technology, everything from software development to project and program management. When I joined Appirio, and for most of my time here, I was running our Salesforce.com consulting practice, which is our largest consulting practice. I took a few turns along the way, just to round out my experience, with crowdsourcing and mobility, partnering with Apple, and some strategic partnerships with Amazon. I also did some corporate strategy work, which led to Appirio being acquired by Wipro.
Pruden went on to cite the need for Appirio to have someone heading up HR who was already entrenched in the company:
As that acquisition happened, we were looking for an HR leader who had a history with Appirio, with the DNA that we have built over the last 10 years and an appreciation for the different groups inside of Appirio, not only on the revenue-generating side, like our consulting business, but also in G&A. I knew how to network inside the executive team at Appirio, and was deeply involved in the integration of Wipro and Appirio. One of the things I had been doing before taking over HR was helping to lead our integration office between the two entities. If you combine all of that, and if you think about what Appirio does as its business, which is bill hours, the revenue-generating engine of the company is our people, and it’s also what differentiates us in the marketplace. Who better to lead all those people functions than somebody who has the background to get things done inside of Appirio, and who has also networked well inside of our parent company? So all of those things came together, and that’s the path that I’ve taken and why I’m in this role now.
Pruden had highlighted some of the advantages of having someone with a tech background in the top HR role, so I asked him what some of the disadvantages are. He said it’s more a matter of risks than disadvantages:
Maybe I can talk about how we’re mitigating some of those risks. I am not an HR practitioner by trade, especially when it comes to complex international matters. And as Appirio continues to expand internationally, there’s a changing regulatory landscape, you’ve got cultural differences, you have workstyle preference differences. HR practitioners have very tried and true ways of tackling those things. I definitely do not have that background, so that adds a lot of risk to what we’re doing here. The way that we mitigate that risk is we have kept a very strong HR leadership team here. We have these HR practitioners that are my direct reports, who know this stuff inside and out, probably some of the best in the industry. So if I can provide stable leadership of that team, we’re going to be in really good shape. That’s how we’re mitigating against the risks of having a non-HR practitioner coming in to lead the team right now.
I wrapped up the conversation by asking Pruden how the culture of Appirio has changed since it was acquired by Wipro. He said the short answer is it hasn’t changed much at all, which is by design:
We define corporate culture as how the company works — how we do our day job, how we work with our customers, how we work with our peers and other consultants. How we get that work done has not changed for what I would say is the vast majority of legacy Appirians — the 1,300 folks who were Appirio employees before the acquisition. Their work hasn’t changed much. But we know it is going to change over time — that’s inevitable. There will be ways that work changes as Appirio becomes more global and gets to take advantage of shared services inside of Wipro — that will probably change the way we get some work done. The jury’s still out on exactly what those changes are, but it hasn’t changed much at all yet.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.